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Music gives Ukraine journalist strength to find truth among chaos

For Margo Gontar, a Ukrainian living in Kiev, music is  “essential like breathing.” She holds a graduate degree from the FCP logoMohyla School of Journalism in the Ukraine, but after a decade of singing, songwriting and performing, she decided to focus on a music career full-time. She released two singles and a promotional music video. Her song, “Another God,” was gaining some traction on SoundCloud.

Then, “the events” happened. In March, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean region of Ukraine. With fears of more Russian involvement, the hasty departure of the country’s former president and the quick election of a new one, rumors and fake “news” stories were rampant. Along with other journalism students and graduates, Gontar decided on a new priority.

She helped to create StopFake.org, a fact-checking project that aims to eradicate misinformation and provide Ukrainians with factual news.

Gontar and Oleg Shankovskyl, another StopFake editor, attended this week’s Poynter Global Fact-Checking Summit in London, where similar organizations around the world gathered to talk about their jobs and the expanding world of fact checking. I interviewed Gontar there outside the London School of Economics; watch our video above.

At the invitation of Duke University professor Bill Adair, the founder of PolitiFact and the force behind the global summit, the two Ukrainians headlined a session titled: “The toughest place to find the truth: Fact checking in Ukraine.”

Gontar is low-key about her music career, only acknowledging it after Adair mentioned it in introductions at the summit. (Adair had been surprised to find her music and videos online when doing a Google search for StopFake information.) Gontar, a Kiev native, said she grew up listening to English songs and practiced the language by singing along to artists like Adele and Solange. She plays electric and acoustic guitar, and describes her music style as a combination of “new wave and electronic, new-sounding 80s music, indie rock.”

Her music career is on hold now. The StopFake team works long hours, taking apart suspect stories and photos being circulated in social media and publications in an effort to determine their voracity and then publish their fact-checked information.

They also dissect what many believe to be Russian propaganda, “state-run, very aggressive, very primitive sometimes, and at the same time effective,” said Yevhen Fedchenko, the director of the journalism program at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, in an interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab.

In the meantime, Gontar has found a few moments to write some songs, including tracks about the Ukrainian “events” – as she calls it — and the shattering of peace in her part of the world.

“If I’m not doing music, I can’t really do anything else,” she said. “It gives me the strength to carry on with all this hard work that we must do on our project StopFake.”

Read more about the fact checking summit from Poynter.

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